Chilean Chronicles, Part XXIII: Latin American Journalism Conference

I’ve been sending the students in my Data Journalism class at the University of Diego Portales a lot of emails.

Over the weekend I let them know about a year-long fellowship sponsored by the Open Society Institute.

I sent them a notice about the Massive Online Open Course about Data Journalism offered by the Knight Center.

And, on Thursday night, I forwarded them an email saying that I had gained admission to the final day of to the second Cumbre Latinoamericana de Periodismo, or Latin American Journalism conference that was organized by the Colegio Latinoamericano de Periodistas, or Colaper. A host of organizations, including the University of Chile, Reporters without Borders, and professional journalism organizations from Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, among others.

The former Congress where the conference of Latin American journalists was held.

The former Congress where the conference of Latin American journalists was held.

The next morning, I ventured to the Room of Honor at the former Chilean Congress to attend the final morning of the three-day summit that brought together about 80 journalists from 17 countries, according to Claudia Castro, who helped organize the conference.

Claudia Castro, who helped organize the conference.

Claudia Castro, who helped organize the conference.

The focus was on press freedoms, and, overall, the news was not positive.

While Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia were the major countries of concern, several presenters voiced their distress about the current media environment here.

Maria Pia Matta, who heads the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, was one of them.

Sitting in front of portraits of two mustachioed politicians whose portraits hung underneath classical design ringing the room and between golden colored flowers that flowed into lamps, the diminutive Matta took direct aim at Chilean media.

“We are not neutral,” she said at one point, her hands gesturing animatedly, her voice rising in volume and intensity. “We have a position.”

Maria Pia Matta makes a point during her presentation.

Maria Pia Matta makes a point during her presentation.

Matta was referring to fellow community radio providers across the world. Her comment struck at the doctrine of objectivity to which she said too many journalists erroneously cling.

She also spoke at length about the difficult conditions to which many Mapuche, members of Chile’s largest indigenous group, seeking to do community radio work are subjected. Matta explained that the Mapuche had a legal license to operate a community radio station, but had it taken away after they tried to use it.

In general, resources for community radio workers around the planet are scarce, according to Matta. About 95 percent of people who work in the field are volunteers.

In response to a student’s question, Matta said that she was open to community radio receiving governmental support provided that they could retain editorial autonomy.

The imbalance between the geography and range of coverage was another element of Matta’s critique. We only learn about what is going on in Santiago, she said. People don’t know what’s happening in their communities. We need more diversity of coverage.

But if the content offerings are not sufficiently diverse, the people attending the event certainly were.

There was Irene Helmke, a Chilean with German roots who studied at Columbia Journalism School, lived in the United States for a decade and speaks fluent Spanish, German and English.

As is quite common here, people hear me speak Spanish and, after hearing my accent, respond in English.

I kept going with the Castilian, which meant that Irene would say something in English to which I would respond in Spanish.

With Alejandra Izarra, who recently arrived in Chile from her native Venezuela, the conversation was puro espanol.

Izarra, who earned a Master’s degree in Marketing from Rafael Belloso Chacín University, is looking for work.

Alejandra Izarra of Venezuela worked at the conference.

Alejandra Izarra of Venezuela worked at the conference.

Aurelio Henriquez, who flew in from the Dominican Republic, has plenty of it.

In addition to being the chief of communications for the state-sponsored lotteries in his home country of the Dominican Republic, he also heads an online outfit called

Henriquez explained that he has a team of 12 people, including reporters in the capital and most, but not all, of the country’s provinces. (That’s a goal he’s working to achieve.)

Aurelio Henriquez of, who flew in from the Dominican Republic for the conference.

Aurelio Henriquez of, who flew in from the Dominican Republic for the conference.

There also were students from Ecuador, journalists from Colombia, another presenter from Peru, and, when Castro was going through the list of represented nations, an audience member called out repeatedly that Mexico was present.
Participants were treated to a full slate of topics during the days.

Other sessions included looks at ethics, human rights, investigative Journalism and political journalism

At the end of Matta’s presentation I identified my Fulbright and Hoy affiliations, explained that Hoy wanted to hear Matta’s voice and that of other participants, and extended an open offer to print opinion pieces of about 800 words.

About a dozen participants seemed interested and passed me their cards.

Others wanted to take a picture with me.

This included a Peruvian journalist and a Chilean colleague.

We put our arms around each other, smiled for the camera, and, after we saw the results, jokingly complimented each other on our good looks. (Que caballeros! We exclaimed.)

One month from yesterday marks 40 years since the United States-backed coup that overthrew democratically-elected Salvador Allende.

Chile and Peru have had diplomatic disputes and wars that go back to the 19th century, and that continue until today.

But in that room, for that moment, there was unity and camaraderie animated by a common goal and professional creed.

It certainly wasn’t enough to change the absence of press protections in Venezuela and other nations, but it was a moment of unity and camaraderie animated by common goals, values and a shared professional creed.

My students will hear about that tomorrow when we meet in person.

After class, I’ll probably send them some more emails.


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